Woodland wildlife species: Wild Turkey

Contribution by Mark Westphal.

Historically the wild turkeyWild Turkeys - image by Anita Gould. Click for a better view. has been a resounding success story for wildlife and conservation agencies. As of the early 1900s, most of the wild turkeys had been wiped out of North America. During the Great Depression, the turkey population was estimated at 30,000 birds.

Hunters and conservation agencies jumped on the situation before the turkey totally disappeared. With proper game laws limiting female turkey harvest, and proper seasons protecting the birds while they are nesting, the birds have made a resounding comeback. As of today, there are an estimated 7 million birds now roaming North America.

Wild Turkeys - image by dobak. Click for a better view.As with many other animal species, the wild turkey thrives in habitats that offer a wide variety of components. Wild turkeys seem to do especially well in the Midwest where habitats are a mixture of agricultural land and oak-hardwood forest. Turkeys feed on insects as well as corn, wheat, oats and other grains found in farm fields; they typically live in the woods for safe cover and roosting habitat.

Brushy habitat is also needed for nesting and rearing young. When food is not available from agricultural lands, the birds also feed on the mast (nuts and berries) produced from the woodlands. Wild turkeys thrive in areas where these habitats are close together.

With knowledge of the habitat requirements of turkeys, managers can successfully provide opportunities to harvest these birds in a manner that supports a secure population, while providing a high quality hunt with a reasonably high success rate. The state of Minnesota seems to be accomplishing this goal with the lottery hunts it administers for managing wild turkey. Hunters aWild Turkeys - image by Anita Gould. Click for a better view.pply for one of seven five-day blocks to hunt the bird around its mating season in the spring. In some areas the turkey population allows for an additional fall hunting season, when hen harvest is permitted.

According to the DNR, turkey hunters are finding success rates of greater than 30%. More hunting zones are being opened as birds are being released into new areas of the state. This trend seems to be happening in other states as well. Looking across the border from Minnesota into Wisconsin, seasons are now opening in the state in areas where turkeys were never thought to be able to survive, let alone prosper as they have. This indicates that the management that is taking place has been very successful.


The University of Minnesota Extension Forestry team.

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  1. Absolutely moving! The sound of the wild turkey gobbling resonating through Minnesota’s woodlands is an almost spiritual event. Thanks for the insight on Minnesota’s turkey population.

  2. One of my favorite memories as a U of M student was of the flock of wild turkeys that lived around the superblock, bobbing between parked cars, crossing the streets with as much impunity as any tired, frozen student to the great consternation of any driver. They didn’t live among humans, humans lived on their turf.

  3. It’s a real joy to see large flocks descend to our backyard every morning …. They feed underneath our wild bird feeder to get the scraps. We feel blessed to have them around …. 😉

    1. Hi Danny- If you’re looking to attract turkeys, I suggest you take a look at the MN DNR’s Wild Turkey packet. It contains a mix of red and white oaks in addition to other species. So, lot’s of mast-producing trees for food and potential roosting trees for the future (like red pine). If interested in purchasing from the DNR, see their order form here. Good luck with planting! -Matt

  4. I’ve been seeing a hen turkey in my yard. Rural Bovey, Mn.. Nothing I’ve read indicates a wild population up here. What’s up?